The world of fitness and wellness is vast and it can be overwhelming, frustrating, and really pretty scary. I remember stepping into a big box gym almost 14 years ago. I wanted to be strong. I had just been through a big breakup and I was feeling pretty beaten down, scared, and I was longing for feelings of strength, confidence, and frankly, I just wanted to get my feet back underneath me again after being dealt quite a surprising and heartbreaking blow. I walked in ready to go. I wanted to get on the machines, use the weights, and just get down to the business of feeling badass. Maybe I also wanted to throw things, kick things, and cry. But, before I could begin any exercise, I had to undergo one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. Ok, it was a long string of several humiliating experiences topped with a guilt trip and major pressure.
First off, I had to take a guided tour with a trainer who tried to say hello to numerous gym members as we walked through the gym. No one seemed to have any recognition of who he was and it was awkward, but perhaps part of the “show” in these guided tours. Reflecting on it later, it felt like maybe it was supposed to show a sense of “community”? He walked me around with a puffed out chest, eyeing himself in the mirror at every mirror we passed, and seemed to not really be present at the moment with me. I thought things could only get better from here.
Next, I was dropped off in the sales department where I was given a “fitness test”. Squat hold, push-ups, sit-ups, plank, body fat test with calipers, and a weigh-in on an old-school scale in the center of the gym, surrounded by patrons zooming on ellipticals and treadmills. I felt like a spectacle. What the f*ck did any of this have to do with my feeling strong? I obviously knew that I was in the gym because I wanted a change of some type – but they measured nothing that was helpful to me in my goal.
Then, I was asked about nutrition. I responded that I had a great nutritionist and I’d rather not talk about food. “Well, just give me a general idea”. I reluctantly did, and the response still makes me laugh. “You know, for dinner, you should really be eating two bags of lettuce. It will fill your belly and help you lose weight”. Lose weight. His words let his judgment be known. Lose weight. He looked at my body and made a judgment for me. Lose weight. I HAD to be here for weight loss, what else could possibly make sense? “Looking at the results from your fitness test, I’m going to recommend our best package. How many pounds do you want to lose? I have a package of 100 sessions that offer the best per-session price because you’ll need to be here a lot.” So, here I am, just having gone through a break-up and now a man that I’ve never met is judging me off of a “fitness test” and he’s not yet even asked me what my personal goals are. He didn’t ask how I felt about my body. He didn’t ask about injuries. He didn’t ask a damn thing about me.
You see, the fitness world is FULL of this very scenario. Each plan shows a similar pattern, “I am going to humiliate you and then shame you and then try to sell you a solution for all of the problems that you will now believe you have – because I’ve made them clear through my expressed judgment”. Diets. Fitness fads. Beauty fads. These industries all make trillions of dollars per year by feeding off of our fear, our inner self-conscious 12-year-old selves still trying to be popular, our broken relationships, the size of our thighs. I realized what was missing in all of these areas. Compassion, understanding, kindness, support.
During my experience, a seed was planted. I wanted better. I wanted to be better than this. I wanted other people to experience better. I wanted to be the giver of compassion, understanding, kindness, and support to the old me – the person who walked in broken – to a place that took advantage of it. An advocate. A guide. A supporter.
Did I join that gym, you might ask? Yes. The shame, guilt, pressure, humiliation tactic claimed me as a victim. I bought a few sessions with a trainer (that they bait and switched me on) and I walked endless miles on a treadmill. It wasn’t the right route for me. I didn’t find the right fit because I wasn’t asked the right questions, or any questions. But, there was one saving grace, the world’s kindest, most caring, professional gem of a spin instructor. And there, at a crap big box gym that didn’t give a sh*t about me, I got my first taste of what it was to have someone respect my goals, my strength, and my power. That instructor’s name is Shari and we are still in touch. I’m also still in touch with my high school track coach. He attended my wedding and I am attending his milestone birthday party in Chicago this year.
The people that really care, they go out of their way to connect. I have learned from every coach I’ve ever worked with, either what works or doesn’t, for me. You better believe that I do all I can to connect with each person I work with. I never want anyone else to experience the pain, the shame, or the humiliation that I went through. I also promise to never, ever give up on you. You are worth better than the messages you’ve been fed. You are good enough. You are worthy of love. You don’t ever need to do anything that doesn’t serve your own personal goals – and you better believe that I want to know 100% of what those are. You have my support. No guilt. No shame. No contingency. No judgment. Just pure support, compassion, kindness, and compassion. And that’s my promise to you. You are more than a membership number and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.